Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 14, No. 593. Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London <http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/> <http://www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/humanist/> Date: Mon, 15 Jan 2001 07:00:13 +0000 From: Ian Lancashire <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: Re: 14.0585 lexicographical meditations: a sense of genre This is a comment on Francois Lachance's intriguing questions, especially to his suggestion that early language practice affects our ability to distinguish early genres. Philosophical writing, as a genre, redefined itself in the mid-to-late 17th century when philosophers decided they needed to define words rather than things. Because philosophy then could not be separated from science generally, the 1660 Royal Society helped "professionalize" language in this way. It stole much fire from literary writing. It also forced literary genres into being because, after all, poets were no longer writing about either things (as encyclopedists did) or words (an expertise philosophers laid new claim to). What was the poet's "profession", then, but writing "drama," or "novels," or "essays"? This isn't to say that the Renaissance didn't classify literary works. Classical authors had already done so. This is only to suggest that different criteria for generic distinctions were now put into play. So I'm inclined to think the new "philosophical" genre led to a genre shift generally. Lexicography, for instance, developed out of bilingual dictionaries. Though Johnson's 1755 dictionary separates senses, he belongs to the "pre-computational" school because he believed that he was explaining things in the world, not words. See his definition of definition. By the time of the OED lexicographers, the transition from things to words had been completed and was going on, largely unnoticed. Some of our dictionaries today define "noun" as the name of a thing. Of course names lack definitions; they are wholly denotational. This kind of grammar is thought to be a starting place for children. We do not realize that Shakespeare thought this way. Ian Hacking wrote about some of these ideas as early as the 1970s. The groundwork was laid for computational thinking long before the OED and Turing.
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